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Vitter's Solid GOP Support
Who says U.S. Sen. David Vitter doesn't still have solid support from the GOP? According to an April 8 report in The Hill, a Washington-based newspaper (, the embattled Vitter is getting support from fellow Republicans who say he should not resign over a public sex scandal, including "someone who can speak from experience" — Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho. Craig was arrested last year and pled guilty to soliciting sex from a male undercover officer in a Minneapolis airport. The Idaho senator, who has been the butt of almost as many jokes as Vitter, joined other GOP senators in saying that Vitter's testimony in the so-called "D.C. Madam" prostitution and racketeering trial should not force him to resign. "First and foremost, in these kinds of issues, it's the state and the relationship you have with your state that really determines where you ought to go," Craig told The Hill. "That was certainly my case." Like Vitter, Craig has faced calls for his resignation, but Vitter has enjoyed more support from his colleagues, many of whom pushed Craig to quit. Both Vitter and Craig have vowed to stay on and fight. — DuBos


FOP's "Giant Leap Forward'
Almost 30 years after a police strike canceled Mardi Gras, Mayor Ray Nagin's administration apparently is sending encouraging signals to a union that wants to represent NOPD cops. Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Courtney Bagneris, a former deputy chief at NOPD, met with representatives of the Fraternal Order of Police for a "frank and open" discussion of several topics, including the FOP's desire for collective bargaining rights, according to a memo from local FOP spokesperson Jim Gallagher. "While we cannot lay claim to a great victory in today's meeting, the fact that a high-ranking city official was willing to sit down and discuss the collective bargaining process with the Fraternal Order of Police is a giant leap forward," Gallagher wrote. "The next step will be to meet with representatives from the mayor's and city attorney's offices. Ms. Bagneris has agreed to assist us in arranging that meeting." The FOP negotiates labor contracts on behalf of more than 2,500 police groups nationwide. Crescent City Lodge No. 2, the local FOP chapter and the largest of four local police groups, wants to add NOPD to the national union's growing list of contracts. In 1978, then-Mayor Dutch Morial broke a Teamsters-affiliated police union after two separate strikes. — Johnson


Cop, Ex-cop, Cop, Ex-cop As the city's jailer, Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman is no stranger to inmate labor, but he apparently doesn't want ex-cops with criminal records working as armed uniformed deputies. Reserve Capt. Michael Ray Liker, 40, resigned recently while under internal investigation after the Metropolitan Crime Commission informed the sheriff that the veteran law enforcement officer also was a convicted felon. "He resigned for health and personal reasons," a sheriff's spokesperson said by email. Despite repeated requests, Gambit Weekly did not receive additional information from the sheriff's office, such as Liker's hiring date, his assignments and any promotions. In 1992, Liker lived in Luling and worked as a deputy with the St. Charles Parish Sheriff's Office, records show. He and another deputy were arrested for shaking down Vietnamese motorists for hundreds of dollars in "fines" during a series of traffic stops in the Houma area. On April 19, 1994, Liker pleaded guilty to a federal malfeasance charge and received a five-year suspended sentence. Last September, the commission alleged that Liker did not disclose his felony conviction on employment applications filed with the sheriff's office. — Johnson


As it does in most years, the House Transportation Committee is trudging through a slew of bills to create new vanity license plates. There are bills on tap this session to create special license plates for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and "Gold Star Families" as well as others honoring Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Another measure would change the current design of the existing Purple Heart plate. Most new license plates require at least 1,000 orders to remain on the books — and on cars — but that rule was slated to be challenged. Rep. Karen Carter Peterson, a New Orleans Democrat, for one, is pushing House Bill 569 to eliminate the requirement, but only for the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority prestige plates. (Big surprise: Peterson's bio reveals she is a member of the group.) But when the bill came up last week, the committee passed over it without commenting on the vanity of the plates or the concept. — Alford


No-Party Contender
Shines Every election year there's at least one fringe candidate who never fails to amuse. This year, that candidate may be Randall T. Hayes of Winnfield. He's a contender in the Sixth Congressional District and is running under the banner of the Constitution Party. He could not be reached for comment by phone, but his Web site, which is topped by a cartoon likeness of the candidate, does most of the talking for him. In fact, his Web site, goes into detail about his pro-gun, pro-drug stances. Hayes lists his age as "35_" and his occupation as "guerrilla ontologist." His "official campaign photo," which the media is invited to use, depicts him flanked by women in a bar, their faces blurred out. In a continuing online poll, voters are asked to choose their "favorite non-blue primary color." As for qualifications, he writes that he keeps three Bibles on his nightstand, which "proves I'm three times as holy" as other candidates. He also asks voters, "If the election were held today, would you be surprised by the sudden change of schedule?" For now, the runoff is still scheduled for May 3. — Alford


Nagin Now a Fu Fighter? Will Ray Nagin return from China as New Orleans' kung fu fighting mayor? We'll know soon enough. Hizzoner was expected home over the weekend, after attending a three-day meeting of world mayors in the provincial city of Zhengzhou, (pronounced JUNG-joe). The modern megalopolis on the Yellow River is also home of the Shaolin Monastery, a Buddhist place of worship and home of the martial art of kung fu, says a New Orleans businessman familiar with the region. "[The monastery] has done a lively tourist trade" among aging Westerners thanks to reruns of Kung Fu, a 1970s American TV show starring actor David Carradine, the businessman said. The official purpose of Nagin's trip was to attend the International Mayor's Forum on Tourism (April 9-11) and to meet privately with Chinese officials concerning investment opportunities. Nagin led a small delegation that left New Orleans April 6, including Lisa Ponce de Leon, city director of international relations, and Erin Butler-Mueller, an official with the U.S. Export Assistance Center in New Orleans. — Johnson


Candles and the Danziger 7
Orleans Parish DA Keva Landrum-Johnson will lead a candlelight ceremony in her office this week to observe National Crime Victims' Rights Week. But in the hot-button Danziger 7 case, seven New Orleans cops face capital murder charges for the shooting deaths of two men and the wounding of four others during the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Some prosecutors may not stay long for Thursday's candlelight ceremony. The DA's office is preparing appellate briefs in support of its request to remove Criminal Court Judge Raymond Bigelow from the Danziger 7 case, citing alleged conflicts of interest. The deadline for filing is Monday, April 21, says DA spokesperson Dalton Savwoir Jr. The DA is proceeding with the appeal even though Bigelow will retire at the end of 2008. Savwoir says Bigelow has not said how his announced retirement will affect his role in the Danziger case, if at all. The seven current and former NOPD officers remain free on bond. The candlelight ceremony runs from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, April 17, at the DA's office, 1340 Poydras St., 21st floor. — Johnson


Empty Shoes, Aching Hearts
The Orleans Parish Coroner's Office reported 49 homicides and 14 suicides this year through April 10. Meanwhile, a day of action, hope and remembrance is on this week's calendar. Local activists and federal, state and local law enforcement will join together from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 19, in the Kendall-Cram Room of Tulane University's Lavin-Bernick Center for a free community event commemorating National Crime Victims' Rights Week. "We will have a theme of empty shoes," says David Kent, vice president of Victims and Citizens Against Crime, along with the name of each victim killed in 2007 and the date of death. There also will be free food, a children's art station, live music by the SilenceIsViolence student music clinic, and awards for U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and FBI Special Agent in Charge Jim Bernazzani. Agency booths will feature information on victims' rights, state victims' compensation funds and services. Elsewhere, the U.S. Postal Service will present a monthlong display dealing with victims' rights in the lobby of the main post office, 701 Loyola Ave. — Johnson


Big Oil's Rosy Shades
Two of Louisiana's largest oil and gas groups briefed lawmakers last week and predicted a vibrant future in which exploration in the Gulf of Mexico hits record highs. Members of the House Natural Resources Committee peppered the groups with questions about what the state can do to help the industry. Fewer taxes and workforce development topped the lists. Chris John, president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association, notes that two recent Gulf lease sales netted more than $6.5 billion. "These aren't frivolous investments. These companies are going to follow up and spend more money," John says. "I think the opportunities for Louisiana in the [Outer Continental Shelf] are going to be incredible, but we need to be ready from an infrastructure standpoint, whether that's roads or bridges or canals." The largest challenge facing the industry, John told lawmakers, involves workforce development — a top priority for Gov. Bobby Jindal. "We are going to need hundreds of thousands of people in the near future trained in a certain way," John says, "from computers to engineers to roughnecks — the whole range." Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, gave lawmakers a rosy picture, saying historic rig counts in northern Louisiana will continue to grow at astonishing rates with new discoveries, and that Gulf drilling is about to rebound. He says the Gulf rig count has fallen because it's the "most expensive place to drill in the world." Briggs assured lawmakers the trend won't last forever. Independents and majors are finding deepwater drilling in other parts of the world to be unfriendly in terms of geopolitics, Briggs says. The Gulf of Mexico is "politically stable" compared to Venezuela, where oil fields were recently nationalized. "That's why the Gulf of Mexico is about to become a big place to play," he says. — Alford


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